For the first time in December 2016, the United States (US) allowed the United Nations (UN) to condemn Israeli settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. These areas are considered Palestinian territories by the international community but which Israel have militarily occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Instead of exercising its veto power, the US abstained from the UN Security Council vote in which a UN resolution was passed 14-0, voted in favour by all of the other members. It stated that Israel’s settlement activity is a “flagrant violation under international law” and has no “legal validity”. Such activities are observed to be detrimental to the proposed “two state solution” which aims to have Israel and Palestine in peaceful coexistence.
In response, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a scathing attack on the Obama administration saying that he was “deeply disappointed” and ordered Israel’s Foreign Ministry to curb diplomatic relationships with at least twelve of the countries that voted in favour of the resolution. He also notably commented that “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump … to mitigate the damage that this resolution has done and ultimately to repeal it.”
Earlier this week, Israel approved of one of the largest expansions of settlements in the West Bank. 566 new housing units are to be built in East Jerusalem, with an additional 2,500 housing units to be built within West Bank settlements. The approval is a clear act of defiance against the international community who have been pressuring Israel to desist from settlement building activities. According to some, including Palestinian official Wasel Abu Yousif, the arrival of the new Trump administration seems to have emboldened the Israeli government. A few weeks before his inauguration, Trump had announced that he planned to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which seems to have been interpreted by Israel as a pledge of support.
Tensions continue to rise between Israel and the world at large about its settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem. It’s possible but extremely unlikely for the UN resolution on Israel to be repealed as gathering the support required (8 other member countries) would be difficult and a permanent member of Security Council could always veto (e.g. Britain, Russia, China and France).
Whilst Israel have always agreed to direct negotiations with Palestinian authorities as a means of reaching a peaceful “two state solution” such talks have failed thus far and appear unlikely to succeed when Israel continues to conduct further settlement building. Actions will always speak louder than words and until Israel demonstrates this, little progress will be made on this issue.
Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether the US embassy move will actually take place as it certainly holds explosive ramifications for the region if it does eventuate. The month of June will be certainly be one to pay close attention for any developments as the move would have to wait until then before it can proceed. Obama had previously signed a presidential waiver that expires on June 1, citing ‘national security interests’ as the reason for delaying the embassy move.